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Studies by Adventist Health have indicated that eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes (all plant foods common in vegetarian diets) can reduce a person's risk for cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes along with providing other mental and physical health benefits. In their second study of 96,000 people from the US and Canada, Adventist Health found further dramatic differences in the life expectancies and overall health statistics of vegans, vegetarians, and those eating a more plant-based diet. Most notably:
- Vegans are, on average, 30 pounds lighter than meat-eaters and live approximately 6-10 years longer than meat eaters
- Vegans are up to 5 units lighter on the body mass index scale than meat-eaters
- Vegetarians and vegans are less insulin resistant than meat-eaters
- Pesco-vegetarians and semi-vegetarians who limit animal products have "intermediate protection" against lifestyle diseases
These numbers are staggering, but there are many who aren’t a good fit for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, and that’s okay! The great news is that plant-based diets and meat-eating diets aren’t mutually exclusive, meaning… you can do both and still gain great health benefits. Here are a few different types of plant-based diets:
- Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diets include eggs, dairy, and small amounts of meat, poultry, ﬁsh, and seafood.
- Pescatarian includes eggs, dairy, ﬁsh, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
- Vegetarian includes eggs and dairy, but no meat, poultry, ﬁsh, or seafood.
- Vegan excludes all animal foods such as eggs, dairy, and sometimes even honey.
The versatility in these diets provides plenty of ways to fill any hungry belly, but the trick is prioritizing the plants and their yields: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, beans, seeds, oils, and nuts (and all their milks). Fill two-thirds of your plate with these plant-based foods and you will be off to a great start. As for the rest of your plate, try a lean protein such as chicken or fish, or a plant-based protein like tofu or beans.
Why are these habits important? Plant-based diets have long been aligned with longevity and health. Here’s a bit of the science behind it:
- Plant-based diets support your immune system with essential nutrients that are not available in animal-based foods. These nutrients include phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are required for your immune system to function properly.
- Plant-based diets reduce inflammation by eliminating free-radicals. The phytochemicals and antioxidants that support your immune system are also responsible for neutralizing toxins from pollution, processed foods, bacteria, viruses, and more.
- Plant-based diets help maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can cause inflammation and hormonal imbalance which increases your risk for twelve different types of cancer. The only thing more important than healthy weight for reducing your risk of cancer is not smoking.
- Plant-based diets provide the necessary amount of fiber. Fiber improves gut health, so your body can absorb nutrients from the food you eat. It also helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
- Plant-based diets reduce overall risk of disease including the risk of heart disease. Believe it or not, a vegetarian diet has even been known to reverse heart disease!
What does this mean for you? A refrigerator full of vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods is a great way to help you make better decisions when your tummy is a-rumbling. Feel like you are at a loss of inspiration for making veggies an enjoyable part of every meal? Instead of racing through the produce aisle at the grocery store, visit your local farmer’s market, a farm stand, or sign up for a CSA where you’ll gain access to a myriad of colorful, flavorful, and way more local and healthful veggies to spice up your next dinner date in the kitchen. Plus, allow me to remind you of all the amazing chefs that have been working hard to make plant-based foods more appealing to a greater number of people. There are incredible recipe books available for you to try your hand. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi, By Yottam Ottolenghi
- The CSA Cookbook, by Linda Ly
- Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, by Martha Holmberg
I urge you to give veggies a fighting chance, because they will certainly fight for you.
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